19 February 2017

Sinfionetta Riga with Alexsandre Doisy

It finally happened, I managed to get myself from Vilnius to Riga! At long last I have traversed the borders between these two proud Baltic states and got to see another side to the Baltic. After a wonderfully peaceful bus journey from Vilnius to Riga, and a quick scavenge in a music shop for some Latvian CDs, I set foot into the Lielaja gilde to see Sinfionetta Riga under the fine baton of Normunds Sne.

The concert was part of a larger festival dedicated to the saxophone, so I was particularly curious to see how I would swallow a concert full of sax concerti. The openner came in the form of a charming work by Regis Campo. His Ouverture en forme d'etoiles (2006) was bright resilient, and above all else, it was playful. This cheeky little number should be played more often, even if it did offend the lady sat next to me in the concert. After a brief overture to wet our appetites, out came Katrina Kivleniece with a tenor saxophone. I was curious to hear the next work, as my knowledge of the Latvian landscape is rather thin, so I was intrigued to see what this concerto by Gederts Ramans would sound like. The three movement concerto, written in 1962 was charming. The three movements gave the soloist the space to truly be and Katrina Kivleniece definitely exploited that. Her tone, her command of the instrument were exquisite and I found the sensation of her vibrato to be just the sweetest addition. Overall the concerti was fun and I believe more saxophonists should have a crack at this piece. It charms and is witty, what more can someone want from a concerti?

Following a bit of shuffling, came the final piece of the half, Frank Martin's Ballade for saxophone and orchestra. The piece stands as quite a formidable work for the instrument and orchestra, and was a definitive change in mood after two very cheeky little pieces. Alexsandre Doisy was on extremely good form, highlighting and exploiting every nuance of the titanic piece. Normunds Sne was also a joy to watch, as he was able to truly magnify the larger architecture of the work giving direction to the sombre philosophising of the work. For me what truly stunned me, was hearing Doisy's control of the extreme altissimo registers. They were handled so sweetly and elegantly but the effect came off as extremely potent and engaging. It was a joy to witness, my only thought would have been to maybe squeeze it one piece early, to sandwich such potent melodrama with the cheekier pieces. The form we heard last night gave us a huge amount of sweet sugar and then suddenly we dropped into deeply brooding colours. It was quite startling. 

After the break, and me nerding out trying to spot as many Latvian composers as I could, came the second half. The first piece in the second half was Juste Janulyte's new work The Colour of Water for saxophone(s) and orchestra. The duty and honour of performing this premiere fell on the shoulders of Arvydas Kazlauskas. Those of you who have read this blog more than once will know how much I adore the music of Juste Janulyte. So to hear a work which concludes her trilogy of 'Latvian' pieces was definitely going to be a high point for me. The work is simple and elegant, with the use of saxophone doublings having quite a striking impact. The gathering of colours as they dance around the soloist who swayed in tandem with the music was truly mesmerising. Arvydas Kazlauskas's control and poetic intepretation was truly inspired. Very rarely do soloists exploit a premiere quite like this. He was given a beautifully crafted white canvas to respond to, and he filled it with elegance, colour, and majesty. The moment that really affected me was the point the baritone sax finally made its voice heard. The rich purring of the low sax made the finale of the piece glisten in the concert hall. For me, what is particularly curious, is to see how the three 'Latvian' pieces will sound together. To start with Elongations of Nights then follow it with this wonderful piece, and close with Observation of Clouds would produce quite an exquiste programme indeed. With all three, having been wonderfully crafted, combined with a beautifully flowing undercurrent, this could lead to a truly magnificent hour of listening.

After tons of shuffling, came the finale. Artic-REVERSE by Rihards Zalupe for sax quartet, orchestra, and electronics was quite a intriguing piece, mostly due to the massive forces and the fact I had never heard a work by this composer beforehand. The start was curious, the vaguely 'Michael Nyman-esque' sax writing would have normally grossed me out, but when combined with the rich colours of the orchestra and electronics gave the piece a curious brilliance to it. The gesture were bright and always clear, the Riga Saxophone Quartet were elegant, and weirdly every moment was intriguing to listen to. The issue for me was the fact the work ultimately lacked structural focus. Rihards would build a wonderful colourful space and then suddenly throw it away for something else. Weirdly I still don't quite know how I feel about the work as a whole. If the structure was more succinct, I would easily say this piece is wonderful for being so bright and quite frankly original; but the structure bugs me to no end. I will have to keep my eye on the composer to see what on earth comes next. 

This has definitely a joyous concert to watch, and I was so glad to finally see Normunds Sne conducting in person. A truly refined and poignant conductor indeed. This trip to Riga has been a lovely adventure, and I sincerely hope it doesn't take me too long to return. On a closing note, as I have gathered some wonderful bits from Riga, expect to see more discussions of Latvian composers over the coming weeks. Until next time!

9 February 2017

Interview - Diana Cemeryte

Another week has flown by and I find myself with another interview for the blog. I have really enjoyed this particular process as I keep finding excuses to indulge myself in the music of composers I really admire. This interview is of course no exception. For those of you who are familiar with my blog, will know I have discussed Diana Cemeryte's work before, and have had more than positive things to say about it. For those curious, you can see me discussing Still by Diana here. 

When I initially discussed this interview with Diana, I had asked which piece should would like me to present alongside the article. She recommend I discuss her work Les essais c'est tout II (2016) for string quartet, percussion, and electronics. I was fortunate enough to witness the premiere firsthand in Jauna Muzika last year. I was struck by the sheer austerity and clarity of the work, despite its darker qualities. The metronomic pulsations combined with the mutterings from the electronics and the ensemble create a curious sense of spaciousness and impending urgency. The sensation is akin to watching the jittering activities at the microscopic level of a larger lifeform. The creature itself may be standing still, but at its most minute level, it is bustling with energy and anticipation. What I also find curious about Les essais c'est tout II is it appears to be one of the most overtly dramatic works by the composer. I always find moments like this, when a composer has a momentary shift from their 'typical' creations, and build something distinctly different but also distinctly them. It is a very pleasant moment indeed, and this work is a perfect example of this. I do hope it gets multiple performances in the near future. So before I move onto the interview portion, have a listen to Les essais c'est tout II on her soundcloud.

Labas Diana, thank you for allowing me to interview you for the blog. For those who did not see me talking about your music previously, could you briefly describe your work?
Labas Ben, thank you for your interest in my music. You know, I believe in power of not overloaded music  that is expressed with minimal number of gestures. My music must breathe, must have pauses and time to listen into it. This is perhaps (why) I mostly compose chamber music. Quite often I find inspiration in early music, especially in Gregorian chant. I sang personally Gregorian chant almost 10 years. So, this intimate relationship to that kind  of music inspired and guided me every time: 2001 I wrote Ave Maris Stella, oder zehn Minuten mit Organum for string quartet, 2006 -  a piece named O clemens, o pia.. for a clarinet and percussion, 2013 I initiated a project VIDI AQUAM: A Dialogue between Postmodern and Gregorian Chant  etc.

You have been living and working in Frankfurt for a significant amount of time now, I am curious to know what first led you to move to city first? And secondly how you feel the local scene and the national scene have influenced your work to date?
I always wanted to study in Germany. It’s a magic country for  musicians, isn’t it? So, I studied three years (of) musicology at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt. But the main reason, why I  left Lithuania (in 2001) was more simple – it was love.
Music trends in Lithuania were more or less influenced by the post romantic spirit at that time, so naturally I was fascinated at so different music landscape in Germany.  You could choose between various ways of music: K. Stockhausen, H. Lachenmann, W. Rihm etc.  You could attend concerts with amarvelous musicians and the most important thing at that time for me was – the contemporary music was truly played and performed live in concerts! Next important point was attending the Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik in Darmstadt. I did it twice in 2004 and 2006 and it was intensive learning and great experience for me. In two week I could meet and research in Darmstadt all the music streams and currents. And you get  such a dose, injection of contemporary music for the  entire year or probably even for the entire life. So, I really recommend it for young composers!
Back to your question, I think, I naturally pick some music elements or effects to my music vocabulary from the music, which I listen and appreciate in Germany. I also think, that I benefit from the both music landscapes – the Baltic and the western (I don’t want to say german).

I have been drawn to your music, mostly because of its honest depiction and dedication to form. It never feels complex, but you manage to portray complex ideas in such a manner that they can draw the listener in. How do you think you manage to make this quality? And which piece do you think shows this off the most?
You can speak much better about my music than I, Ben. You know, in my music I try to construct modes. I feel myself like a painter, who lays different layers of colors: sometimes thick, sometimes transparent. For me it is not important to develop themes, to lead them to the culmination. Much more important is to play with the material, with the colours, with different modes, to move these layers from one space to the space. Sometimes this is the way, I revive the sounds from the early culture (Hildegard von Bingen), or let myself inspire from the visual arts. This is like in the piece Les essais c'est tout II (2016) for string quartet, percussion and tape. I tried to dive into the art of a Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti, his long, continuous, fragile and often walking figures. An allusion to the works of Giacometti I  used long and subtle lines of instruments, reduced musical elements and somewhat transparent patterns.

Recently you had the premiere of your children’s opera, congratulations again, how did you feel when you approached writing for children? Often composers avoid such commissions as they feel it beneath them, but I imagine you hit it with stride.
Thank you! It was an honour to compose something for children! I was very glad, I could choose among five instruments (it’s still my favorite chamber music) and children chorus. Of course I had to concentrate on the simple melodies, to much more consonant music, but I also used my favorite effects, like air noises of the wind instruments, whispers in the chorus, or complex piano and percussion rhythms. I was so happy about this project! Especially - about the book and CD of this opera!

What are you currently working on at the minute?

This half of the year will be very intensive for me:  I will have three commissions. At this moment I am working on the piece for the Thomas Mann Festival in Nida.

And as is my habit with these interviews, what five recordings would you want to have with you if you were stranded on a desert island?

It is difficult to choose only five recordings. Every phase of our life has favorite music. Therefore, I will take these compositions, which were important to me in the different times of my life: something from medieval music (Hildegard von Bingen, or gregorian chant), Gustav Mahler Adagietto from Symphony no. 5, Arvo Pärt  Sarah Was Ninety Years Old, the Salvatore Sciarrino’s opera Luci mie traditrici and Keith Jarrett The Köln Concert.